The 10 Best Horror Movies Set In New York, Ranked

In New York, everyone can hear you scream. But will they really care? In the city that never sleeps, evil lurks around every corner, ready to strike whenever one's guard is let down for just a moment. Sure, it's a gorgeous, bustling metropolis, but if horror movies have taught audiences anything, it's that the Big Apple packs some big scares. Tyler Gillett & Matt Bettinelli-Olpin surprised fans with their very funny, very bloody 2022 "Scream" reboot. For the sixth entry, the duo have supplanted Woodsboro, California, in favor of New York City, letting Ghostface get bigger, meaner, and deadlier.

Shooting in the actual city can be costly (for reference, "Scream VI" filmed in Montreal), likely accounting for just how few true New York horror stories there really are. Often, Manhattan is merely used as a backdrop, the horror features never fully taking advantage of the distinct iconography or scale for something truly terrifying. Some have, however, and here, we'll be looking at 10 horror movies set in New York — even if they weren't exclusively filmed there.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

In the eighth entry in the long-running "Friday the 13th" series, recurrent killer Jason Voorhees had big plans. He was going to converge on New York City for a night of terror. In anticipation of the release, Voorhees even sat for an interview with Arsenio Hall. Only, Jason didn't really "take" Manhattan. He took Vancouver, and he didn't even really take that. Fans of the franchise know well that the much-touted New York angle amounts to little, with the protagonists (and Jason) only arriving in the city for the third act. Even then, they're mostly limited to grungy alleys and nondescript street corners.

Admittedly, Jason does get a pretty stellar showing in Times Square, but for many fans, it's too little, too late. In an interview with Variety, director Rob Hedden outlined some of the original plans, including having Jason storm a Broadway play, though on account of budgetary constraints, most of the planned sequences were scrapped. Despite this, "Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan" remains plenty of fun. The novelty never wears thin, and Jason has some of his best kills here. Sure, it's all retroactively rendered non-canon by the next film, though as a throwaway slasher outing, there's enough carnage worth cheering for.

Rosemary's Baby

While "Rosemary's Baby" might have been marred in controversy at the time of release, ranging from curses to censorship issues, it remains one of the scariest movies ever made. Director Roman Polanski's austere approach to devilish insemination astounds decades later by dint of its sheer simplicity. While there's a surreal foray here and there, "Rosemary's Baby" is exceptionally grounded, and it's rendered all the more terrifying for it.

Mia Farrow stars as Rosemary Woodhouse, wife to John Cassavetes' Guy Woodhouse, the titular character unfortunately burdened with carrying the Devil's spawn (though she doesn't know it straight away). Though set in New York City, Polanski never quite exploits the city's scale as well as he could have, as most of the action unfolds in Rosemary and Guy's apartment. Still, in small interludes, the city's size augments the scares considerably. That's because, in a city of millions, Rosemary is truly alone. No friends, doctors, or strangers are willing to help. At times, it feels as if everyone living there is conspiring against her. As a parable for distinctly female fears, it's both heartrending and deeply distressing.

Black Swan

Like "Rosemary's Baby," Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" adroitly captures the sheer ruthlessness of creative success in New York City. Natalie Portman's Oscar-winning role as Nina Sayers, ballerina for the New York City Ballet, perfectly conceptualizes the self-destructive lengths people are willing to go to succeed. More than most cities, New York is a ceaseless reminder of how much better, how much more prosperous, those around you really are. The pressure proves too much for Sayers, and resultantly, she spirals into madness as soon as she's cast as the lead in her company's production of Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake."

Portman, of course, is game, and Aronofsky captures both the depressive ennui of the city and its claustrophobic perimeters. Awash in a sea of other people, Nina can't seem to get away. Not from her mother (Barbara Hershey), not from a coworker (Mila Kunis), and most of all, not from herself. Aronofsky depicts a very private descent in a public forum and were it not for the New York City milieu, some of "Black Swan's" most tantalizing horror elements would likely have been lost.

Dark Water

Walter Salles' "Dark Water" is nowhere near as accomplished as Hideo Nakata's Japanese original, though in adapting source material this strong (Koji Suzuki's "Dark Water"), even lesser than is pretty great. Jennifer Connelly stars as Dahlia Williams, a woman carrying (and projecting) her own trauma onto her daughter Cecilia (Ariel Gade) amid a contentious custody dispute. Desperate to retain custody, Dahlia moves into a dilapidated Roosevelt Island apartment so Cecilia can attend a good school. Shortly after arriving, Dahlia is plagued by a perennial leak in the apartment ceiling.

Much like the original, Salles' "Dark Water" captures a distinct sense of poverty and desperation that too few films can appropriately convey. Yes, New York City is gorgeous, though there are plenty of single mothers on the periphery, doing their best to get by. Sometimes that means a leak, and other times, it means the possible spirit of a missing young girl. While this "Dark Water" reduces the original's already-slim horror moments to the bare minimum — it's more haunting, and never scary — it's an empathetic, humanistic portrait of dire city life with the ramblings of a gothic ghost story. These days, there's not enough of that.


"C.H.U.D." might not mean a lot to the casual moviegoer, though for serious horror fans, these four letters are positively delightful. Douglas Cheek's "C.H.U.D," standing for "Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers," is what audiences mean when they talk about cult classics. Lambasted upon release — "C.H.U.D.' opened at 13 at the domestic box office — it has since developed a cult following. The perfect 80s treat for late-night viewing, they don't make movies like this anymore (not counting the terrible sequel, "C.H.U.D. II: Bud the C.H.U.D."). 

Humanoid monsters are killing people all over the city, and it's up to photograph George Cooper (John Heard) to get to the bottom of what's happening. Even more prescient now than it was upon release, the humanoids of "C.H.U.D." principally target the city's homeless population. While its tone is tongue-in-cheek throughout, there's no denying the political resonance of an underground of humanoid monsters slowly yet assuredly reducing the city's homeless population (presently estimated today at 70,000). It's chilling stuff. Horror has always been political, however, and as a microcosm for bureaucratic failures, "C.H.U.D." hits hard. Beneath the grit and slime, there's something worth thinking about.

The Devil's Advocate

Like "C.H.U.D.," Taylor Hackford's "The Devil's Advocate," adapted from the novel of the same name by Andrew Neiderman, is predicated on the political landscape of New York City. The city is a central character, a key component in the moralistic downfall of Keanu Reeves' Kevin Lomax, a Florida attorney who relocated to the city to work for Al Pacino's literal Devil.

Kevin's aspirations take a toll on his family, especially his wife, Mary Ann (a sensational Charlize Theron). Like the best morality plays, the Devil merely exists on the periphery. This isn't "The Exorcist" with full-borne demonic possession. Instead, the stage is set, though it's up to the players whether they want to gamble with the Devil's promises. Manhattan is a ruthless city, and for Kevin to succeed, he must jeopardize his own moral code. Whether that instinct was there all along is up for debate, but demonic intrigue has never felt more urgent than it does here.


Dario Argento's "Inferno," the follow-up to his Giallo supernatural classic "Suspiria," isn't quite as strong as its thematic predecessor, though it is heaps better than the third entry in his Three Mothers Trilogy, "The Mother of Tears." Like "Suspiria," "Inferno" is principally interested in conspiracy, covens of witches, and gnarly, grisly death scenes. Where "Suspiria" was firmly set in Freiburg at the Tanz Akademie dance school, "Inferno" splits its narrative between both New York City and Rome. An ancient alchemist long ago built homes for the mothers, and Rose Elliot (Irene Miracle) suspects Mater Tenebrarum, the Mother of Darkness, lives right there in New York.

When Rose sends a distressing letter to her brother, Mark (Leigh McCloskey), he travels to the city to unravel the mystery of the mothers and the witchcraft at play. Par for the course with Argento, "Inferno" is more interested in style than coherence, though it takes advantage of the city's distinct iconography for some truly stellar set pieces. There are swarms of rats in Central Park, high-rise beheadings, and entire buildings submerged deep in the water. It's Giallo nirvana, and horror fans both hardened and casual will find a lot to love here.

I Am Legend

Hark, the herald vampires sing. Francis Lawrence's "I Am Legend," adapted from Richard Matheson's seminal "The Omega Man," is finally getting a sequel. Better still, it's going to follow the infinitely better alternate ending from the first. While the first movie might have caused some real-life chaos for New York City residents, there's no denying that "I Am Legend" takes better advantage of its setting than most. It's a thrilling spectacle that ably blends both horror and science fiction, all anchored by an exceptional lead performance from Will Smith.

Smith stars as Robert Neville, a virologist living an isolated life in the city after a vampiric outbreak plagued the world years prior. Much like "A Quiet Place," — which, just food for thought, should totally add an entry set in the city — Neville has acclimated well. He has his dog, his routine, and a meticulous plan to research the outbreak while avoiding the hordes of vampires hiding in the darkness. Like the best early aughts horror, "I Am Legend" boasts the scale to back up its scares. The city is as much a character as Neville, and set anywhere else, "I Am Legend" might not yield the cultural currency it presently does.


While Franck Khalfoun's 2012 "Maniac" remake, featuring a shocking POV Elijah Woods, shifted the setting to Los Angeles, William Lustig's original video nasty is inherently New York. The late Joe Spinell stars as Frank Zito, a man still grappling with childhood trauma whose outlet is the violent murder (and scalping) of young women around the city. An exploitation title through and through, "Maniac" transcends its modest, guerilla origins with grim filmmaking and a deeply oppressive atmosphere.

The violence of "Maniac" both is and isn't the point. Sure, it features touchstone practical effects, including an exploding head that needs to be seen to be believed, but "Maniac" is as much a character study as it is a sleazy slasher film. Like several other entries on this list, there's an undercurrent of humanism in tracking Zito's descent into madness. Abused in a city of millions, he was left on his own. The madness festered until he set about slaughtering his way through the streets. Casual audiences might be disgusted, but for keen genre eyes, there's a masterpiece beneath the muck.


While it remains a matter of preference as to whether Matt Reeves' "Cloverfield" or Dan Trachtenberg's "10 Cloverfield Lane" is the better movie, there's no denying that "Cloverfield" is the definitive New York City horror movie. It's a bold claim, certainly, but no movie has come remotely close to doing what "Cloverfield" did so well in 2008. Beyond the ingenious marketing, it's a movie that lives, breathes, and internalizes a distinct Big Apple attitude. Anywhere else, "Cloverfield" would flounder.

A group of young adults must flee the city after a giant monster, and several smaller ones, wreak havoc. Its set pieces are the stuff of history. The severed head of the Statue of Liberty. The race through subway tunnels. The chilling final scene in which onlookers on Coney Island spot something crashing into the water. While the shaky-cam aesthetic has garnered "Cloverfield" a reputation as another overhyped found footage phenomenon (where have we seen that before?), "Cloverfield" has stood the test of time. Not only is it a horror classic, but it's fundamentally New York.